By Keith Coffman
CENTENNIAL, Colo. (Reuters) - The parents of Colorado movie rampage gunman James Holmes are expected to address the punishment phase of his trial on Tuesday and plead for the life of their son, who they say is mentally ill and not to blame for what he did.
Arlene and Bob Holmes have attended court on the outskirts of Denver almost every day since the proceedings began in late April. On July 16, the jury found Holmes guilty on all counts related to the July 2012 massacre in which he killed 12 people and wounded 70.
The panel of nine women and three men must now decide whether the 27-year-old former neuroscience graduate student will be executed by lethal injection, or serve life in prison with no possibility of parole.
Holmes' parents have not testified so far at the trial, but they issued a statement in December saying their son is mentally ill, "not a monster," and begging for him to be spared the death penalty.
In that statement, they said they spend "every moment" thinking about the victims of the shooting. But they said their son suffers "severe mental illness," had never harmed anyone before, and had no previous criminal history.
Holmes opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle, shotgun and pistol inside a theater packed with 400 people watching a midnight screening of a Batman film. Before leaving for the multiplex in Aurora, he booby-trapped his apartment with explosives. He also donned a helmet, body armor and gas mask.
On Monday, the gunman's younger sister broke down and sobbed as she became the first of his relatives to testify at the trial, telling jurors her brother's murders were completely out of character, and that she still loves him.
Last week, the jury found the prosecution had proved "aggravating factors" which, the state argued, made Holmes' crimes especially heinous and deserving of execution.
Defense attorneys are now calling witnesses in hopes they can prove mitigating factors outweigh the aggravating ones.
(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by David Gregorio)